NEW YORK • The United Nations Security Council has turned its attention for the first time to the growing crisis in Venezuela, with the United States warning that a worsening situation could escalate into a major conflict similar to that in Syria or South Sudan.
Rejecting the US claim, Venezuela accused Washington of meddling in its domestic affairs.
In Venezuela, more troops were dispatched to a region that has been rocked by violence during six weeks of anti-government protests, which have left 43 people dead.
Most shops and businesses in San Cristobal, the capital of Tachira state on the Colombian border, were closed and guarded by soldiers on Wednesday, although looting continued in some poorer sectors, said residents. People made off with items such as coffee and cooking oil in a country where a brutal economic crisis has seen food staples and medicines vanish from shelves.
Barricades of trash, car tyres and sand littered the streets as daily life broke down in the city, which was a hot spot during a 2014 wave of unrest against leftist President Nicolas Maduro. Hundreds of thousands have protested across the country since early last month, demanding elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature.
Mr Maduro's government accuses them of seeking a violent coup, and says many of the protesters are no more than "terrorists".
State oil firm PDVSA blamed roadblocks for pockets of petrol shortages in the country. Venezuela is a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The US Ambassador to the UN, Ms Nikki Haley, told reporters that Washington was not looking for Security Council action.
She noted: "The international community needs to say, 'Respect the human rights of your people, or this is going to go in the direction we've seen so many others go'... We have been down this road with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma."
Venezuela's UN envoy, Mr Rafael Ramirez, accused the US of seeking to topple the Maduro government.
"The US meddling stimulates the action of violent groups in Venezuela," he said.
Venezuelans living abroad, many of whom fled the country's economic chaos, have in recent weeks accosted visiting state officials and their family members.
Mr Maduro on Tuesday likened the harassment to the Nazi treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.
"We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued," Mr Maduro said during a Cabinet meeting - a statement that brought a quick response from Venezuela's main Jewish group, the Confederation of Israeli Associations.
It expressed its "absolute rejection" of "banal" comparisons with the Holocaust, which killed six million Jews.